Four gay couples will enter civil unions in Hawaii as they welcome the new year, the AP reported.

The couples are expected to be the first in the state to take advantage of a civil unions law which takes effect on January 1.

Governor Neil Abercrombie signed in February the legislation that gives gay and straight couples nearly all of the legal protections of marriage.

The celebration, which will take place at an East Oahu home, is being organized by a coalition of groups including Citizens for Equal Rights and Honolulu Pride.

“We love each other,” said Gary Bradley, referring to his partner Paul Perry. “This is just one step closer to full marriage equality.”

“It gives us protection if something were to happen to me, if something were to happen to him,” he added.

(Related: Lesbian couple sue for right to marry in Hawaii.)

The wait for gay couples to have their relationships recognized in Hawaii has been long and protracted. Gay marriage advocates won a landmark 1993 Hawaii Supreme Court case that struck down the state's law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. However, in 1998 voters approved a constitutional amendment giving lawmakers “the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.”

A similar civil unions law also takes effect on January 1 in Delaware.